39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
After a slow and at times confusing narrative in the opening chapters, Cumming starts to work his way through the gears in this engaging espionage thriller and the pace begins to pick up. About half-way through, the book just takes off - an astonishing burst of acceleration, as if it's suddenly writing itself (everything an author prays for). In brief, this is the story of a forty-something academic called Sam Gaddis who's in need of a lucrative publishing contract (loans, mortgage, messy divorce) and finds one of the intelligence world's best-kept secrets falling into his lap. There's nothing more potentially entertaining than an innocent stumbling around in the rarefied echelons of the intelligence community, and the author plays this card particularly well. Gaddis is a charming everyman and absolutely credible as the bumbling academic who finds himself caught up in a viper's nest of intrigue. This is a first-class read - sometimes a little laboured, sometimes a little too detailed - but stay with it and you're set for a dazzling ride. Comparisons are always made in these kinds of cold-war espionage thrillers by giving a nod to Deighton, Le Carré et al. In this case such comparisons are redundant. This writer is in a class of his own and getting better with every book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
In an intricate plot, circles within circles, this revisits the Cambridge spies (Burgess, Maclean et al.) and posits a sixth - who is still alive. Russian academic historian, Sam Gaddis, is handed some secret papers and is soon on a covert trail around Europe, tracked by MI6 and the FSB, both determined that their secrets will remain hidden.
This is an entertaining read, though it feels like a book of two halves. The first half, for me, seemed more plausible and interesting as Gaddis follows his few clues, both personal and archival. The second half where the university lecturer gets pitched against the professionals started wandering into more implausible territory, I thought.
Comparisons have been made with Le Carré, not wholly justified in my view. Yes, this is set in a similar world, but it lacks the moral gravitas of Le Carré's vision. So this is an enjoyable read, more gripping in some parts than others, but generally classier than some of the more throwaway pulp spy thrillers out there.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
If, like me, you were brought up on Len Deighton and John Le Carre, then this excellent story of espionage is a must.
Dr.Sam Gaddis is not a spy but an academic suddenly finding himself with a possible story to investigate helping him to cover his excessive debts.
In pursuing what turns out to be the identity of the sixth member of the Trinity spy ring, he manages, just, to outwit the efforts of the Russian FSB, thinly disguised as the KGB and the mandarins at the British SIS.
He does need, of course, a bit of luck and a couple of friendly faces but this is a well crafted espionage story, built on the back of the cold war era, bringing the adventure up to date as the new potential Russian President appears to have a murky past. Well, no surprise there then but the author tells the story well and leaves the reader wondering just what lies behind the facade of today's Russian (and maybe, British) incumbents.
Thankfully, there are no Americans in this tale to spoil the party. It's an all British affair and an exciting read to the end. This is the author's fifth book and he is certainly a man to watch and maybe catch up on his four previous novels.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2011
This is a good enough read for a plane journey or if you are stuck at home with a cold, but, unlike the hype, it is certainly not John Le Carre Mark 2. It follows the fairly classic thriller pattern of an 'ordinary man' caught up in a web of intrigue (I suppose the archetype is John Buchan's 39 Steps) and like most such books that means that the initial set-up strains the credulity, rather. In this case the coincidence of Sam simultaneously being told by a journalist friend that she has unearthed details of the 'Sixth Man' and by a fan of his history books that she wants him to look at her late mother's papers about the KGB seems a bit unlikely. Also, I was not persuaded by Sam's motivation that he needs to pay an unexpected tax bill. How many academics, taxed on their normal salary but presumably paying further tax on the royalties from his academic writing, unknowingly rack up a £20K tax bill? That suggests astrononomical sales of such writing. Likewise, the assumption that if needs be he can knock out a besteller to raise some cash seems a bit unlikely. But it is necessary to the plot since otherwise Sam's willingness to get involved in the whole thing would be inexplicable.
Anyway, once these contortions have been made, the plot begins to rattle along with a fairly stock set of characters (maverick MI6 boss, menacing Russian hoods, trips to Berlin, Vienna and Budapest and so on) and there's enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. Characterization is a bit thin and some pieces of plotting don't seem to go anywhere (what was all the business about the watch smuggled from Budapest meant to be about?). So there is enough to pass your time, but it isn't a book that you would re-read.
There is also an enormous howler in that the author uses Trinity College, Cambridge and Trinity Hall, Cambridge interchangeably - which for a book entitled The Trinity Six seems particularly careless.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is one of those spy thrillers that you will read on the beach and then happily leave behind. I enjoyed the read but can't say much of it will stay with me. I have read almost all of Charles Cumming's works (just to make sure I wasn't missing anything - or that this was below-par).
I am sure he's a nice chap etc, but I can't understand the lavish praise he is getting. I loved the premise of their being a Sixth Man, which was what attracted me to it - but found that as the book went on, I increasingly had to suspend my disbelief. I know that for this type of a spy adventure we are required to believe our hero can escape/survive encounters that mere mortals (or in this case minor characters in the book) do not, but there comes a point where this effort becomes self-defeating.
By the end I realised that any reasonably competent bunch of baddies would have had him bumped off by about page 135. Sorry, it didn't ultimately live up to its opening premise.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a modern spy novel which deals with the consequences of cold-war events, in which a present-day academic stumbles upon secrets from years ago and is drawn into the world of espionage. Charles Cumming provides a well-researched background of true (or at least on-record) events against which to set his story and this gives it a very convincing feel. The plot is plausible, the story is well paced and gripping, and he describes and uses locations in different European cities to very good effect. There is very sparing use of violence which makes it all the more shocking and effective when it does occur. Cumming doesn't rely on grisly scenes or "adrenaline-packed" action sequences to generate tension but racks it up very satisfactorily through implied threat and uncertainty. I found myself gradually drawn in and in the end thoroughly gripped.
The prose is literate, unaffected and very readable. Characters are generally well-drawn and believable, although I raised a slightly cynical eyebrow at the rather implausible keenness of a beautiful young woman to go to bed instantly with a somewhat older protagonist who, coincidentally I am sure, is roughly the same age as the author. Also, Cumming clearly has a burning moral indignation about a number of things and wanted to get this off his chest, which leads to some rather unconvincing speechifying toward the end of the book - but these are minor flaws which didn't spoil my enjoyment of an enjoyable, literate and engrossing read. Recommended.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
There's a line fairly late on in this novel that goes - "** was a member of the new generation of twenty-first century spies: post-Cold War, post 9/11, post-ideological, whose attachment to the old ways was by no means an article of faith." You might add to that 'post Le Carre' as well for that's how the book came across to me. It's a novel that reflects the kiss and tell of recent years where the secret agencies are concerned. Do you take your secrets with you to the grave and if you don't intend to, will someone try to kill you first in order to prevent it? That's what this novel is basically about and I found it highly engaging. It's well-written and easy to follow without being in any way patronising to the 'ordinary' reader. I speak as one who always found Le Carre rather obtuse. I well remember 'The Honourable Schoolboy' when it came out years ago and finding it like wading through treacle. Cumming writes clearly, tells his story with just the right pace and has thoroughly credible characters. It's based largely in present day London but there are forays to those good old hotbeds of old espionage - Vienna and Budapest. Made me wonder about ever switching my mobile on again but at the end there's a neat twist which suggests that the old ways aren't totally forgotten. Do read it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2012
Like a number of reviewers, I am utterly perplexed by the 5-star ratings and the comparisons with Le Carre etc. In fact, when I read the novel, I took it as a light-hearted spoof, albeit with a few gory sections, rather similar to, say, early William Boyd or Graham Greene. To see so many people actually taking it seriously beggars belief. Yes, it is a happy enough read, but so deeply flawed, even in the context of the genre, that it is little more. To begin with, almost all the characters are caricatures; the behaviour of the Russian hard-men at the denouement is truly comical. Second, the plot is utterly predictable; the only twist was that there were no twists. Third, the plot is riddled with holes: for one thing, how can the security service with such omniscience in one area, singularly fail to do what our academic hero does using Google. It is an entertaining enough read, written in a rather naive style but, please, let's not pretend it is anything more.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2013
Given the critical acclaim Charles Cumming has received, including notices from writers of the calibre of William Boyd and Robert Harris, not to mention the comparisons with le Carre I was expecting a lot from this book. Alas I found it rather a disappointment. I thought I was going to read a serious spy novel - instead it's a bit of a caper. The title is also misleading, as the Trinity Six are more a leap board to the bulk of the narrative rather than the subject of it.
On the plus side it was very readable, with some great twists and turns and plenty which kept me guessing. That said, the plotting is often weak (relying on that soap opera trope of people withholding information) or convenient - Gaddis's visit to the toilet during the bar scene in Vienna, for example.
Other elements that disappointed included the rather pedestrian writing (with more than a sprinkling of cliché), dialogue that is weighed down by action beats, and a rather sexist attitude towards women (I couldn't work out if this was intentional/ironic). The depiction of MI6 was more on the James Bond rather than on the realistic side.
[Spoilers.] Before I finished the book I would have been generous and given it 4 stars as it kept me turning the pages but the ending was particularly unsatisfactory. Russia's fearsome security services are neutralised with ease; the relatives of everyone who has died are paid off (which shows a disquieting commercialisation of the value of life) and on the final page we get the cliché of it all starting over again. I found it twee.
Like I said I was expecting le Carre - but as another reviewer has pointed out, this is more like an upmarket Jeffery Archer novel. Perhaps I opened the book with too many overhyped expectations but sorry to say this didn't work for me.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
We know about the Cambridge Five - Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Cairncross and Blunt. What if there had been a sixth man in this spy ring? What if that sixth man wanted to tell his story? What if his story could cause shame not just to the Russians but the British government as well? These are the questions that Charles Cumming's exciting spy thriller seeks to answer.
Respected academic Sam Gaddis is in debt, badly. The advance for a new book would do the trick - but what can Sam, an expert on the Cold War and Russian secret service, has no idea for a new angle though. Then his best friend, journalist Charlotte Berg invites him to co-write a book with her - she has a scoop in the offing, she'll tell him more later. But before they can get together to start thinking about the book, Charlotte dies. Was it murder? (Of course it was, but Sam doesn't know that at first).
Sam starts to investigate from Charlotte's papers, and before he knows it, he's drawn into a deep web of intrigue that put him in danger. As he pieces information together, the plot takes us from London to Winchester before heading off all around Europe. Gaddis may be a expert historian, but he is an amateur spy. He is lucky though, and without always knowing, he manages to stay one step ahead of those who want his investigation closed down.
This is a complex story of cross and double cross in which you have to keep your wits about you. The pace doesn't let up either, and the action easily matches the detective work to give a good balance. Modern spycraft is well to the fore which always makes for interesting reading and was reassuringly not as over the top as in Spooks, (which I do adore by the way). Cumming is being rated as a successor to Le Carré, and you know, they may just be right - and I don't mind having to read more of his books to see if I really agree.